Guitarist Kenny Carr showcases original work on “Departure”

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Guitarist Kenny Carr released his newest album “Departure” in the fall of 2018. A veteran player with decades of experience, Carr showcases his gift for bold, yet nuanced playing on “Departure.”

At times the sound elements on the album sound like rock ‘n’ roll, and other times, they have the feel of old school soul. Carr’s musical past might have something to do with that.

About Kenny Carr

That most musicians begin playing music at an early age typically surprises no one. But Carr’s development as a musician began with deciding early on to take up an instrument that would represent his life’s work.

Carr began playing the violin at age 9, but by 11, he had switched to guitar and became committed to it. In his early teens in Santa Cruz, California, Carr studied jazz theory with Rob Lautz and trumpeter Ray Brown.

Carr benefited from forging friendships with musicians that he played with. By age 16, Carr was playing in local jazz venues with various types of musicians, from drummers like Kenny Wollesen and Jeff Ballard, to bassist Anders Swanson and saxophonist Donny McCaslin.

In 1981, Carr and his circle of Santa Cruz players were invited to play the Mount Tamalpais jazz festival to open for Carmen McRae and Freddie Hubbard. The event served as a springboard for the guitarist’s career.

A California native, Carr attended Berklee School of Music in Boston. During his senior year, the guitarist was offered a chance to audition for the legendary Ray Charles. Things must have gone well–Carr remained the performer’s guitarist for a decade. In addition, he also played lead guitar on Charles’ albums “Just Between Us” and “Live at Montreux.”

After Charles’ passing, Carr remained an active professional musician. He served as musical director for a contemporary and jazz music ensemble. Carr also played in the ensemble, which is located in the mid-Atlantic. There was no shortage of opportunities for Carr to hone his playing skills. From public, private and protocol venues, the guitarist found himself in-demand, and still managed to amass his own body of work. Starting in 2005 with “Friday at Five,” Carr began to create a distinctive discography. The trend continues with “Departure.”

“Departure” by Kenny Carr: sound and experience

The opening track and the title song offer a good overview of Carr’s approach to putting sound elements together. There is an engaging use of saxophone motifs that complement the guitar work in each song. Carr’s showcases (which might be the wrong word for what he does) meld into the arrangement of the songs. This allows audiences to appreciate the sound of the instrument without being overwhelmed by the idea that a guitar is in the forefront of the soundscape.

“Intervals” opens the album and orients listeners to Carr’s approach. The fast, paired notes of the saxophone and drums seem to have a conversation to which the guitar adds itself subtly. Then, a call and response motif happens in which a “bomp” of saxophone, bass and drums play staccato notes at once. Just when audiences are used to this, a more free-flowing motif shows up. At the end, the familiar motif returns, lighter, until the song ends.

The moody opening to the title track makes good use of softer aspects of the instrumentation. The saxophone sings softly, and the guitar nimbly stacks notes almost to the stratosphere – – but played softly, the effect is anything but strident. A soft echo effect draws out the sound of the guitar. The drums shimmer behind the saxophone’s lonely sound. There is a hint of slowed down, bluesy soul. The overall effect is dizzying in a way that allows audiences to lose themselves.

On “Departure,” Carr plays both guitar and synthesizer. His talent for mood-making and finding the best elements of all instruments involved are present here. “Departure” is not easy listening, but listening to it is time well-spent.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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